(CNN)President Donald Trump is commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day by slamming America’s door on refugees. This is a ghastly repeat of the tragic mistake America made in 1921, when President Warren Harding signed the Emergency Quota Act, severely limiting the numbers of refugees and immigrants admitted to the country.
Even at the height of Holocaust, as millions of Jews, homosexuals, political dissidents and others were exterminated, the US kept its doors shut.
The Refugee Convention of 1951 arose from the ashes of the Holocaust to ensure that never again would the world turn refugees over to their executioners. How ironically tragic that Trump has chosen to observe Holocaust Remembrance Day by once again derailing America’s commitment to refugee protection.
History will look back on this executive order with shame. And Americans, who with a few notable exceptions, have been so welcoming of immigrants, will look back in horror. For most of American history, the United States has been a welcoming country, and refugees have made it that much stronger. Now, this basic tenet of integration is under fierce attack.
What’s the difference between and order and action?
What makes this executive order even more tragic is how unnecessary is it. Today, with greater technological tools at our disposal than at any time in history, immigrants are subject to intense scrutiny: multiple interviews, fingerprints taken, computerized and kept, and repeated security checks by numerous security and law enforcement agencies.
In other words, refugees are already thoroughly vetted but, like so much else with Donald Trump, the facts do not seem to matter. He wants “extreme vetting.”
Moreover, if America does not take refugees, who will? Last year, the United States only resettled 85,000. Many other countries host far more refugees than we do.
However, it is the way we welcome refugees — as new Americans — that has always distinguished us. This is how America credibly demonstrates to the world that refugees should be protected and welcomed. Trump is depriving America of that credibility. If America is afraid of refugees, other countries will be too. If we stop accepting refugees, other countries will stop accepting them too.
More than 1,500 rabbis from nearly every state in our great country chose this month, the month of international Holocaust remembrance, to join HIAS by signing a statement of welcome for refugees. In contrast, Trump observes Holocaust Remembrance Day by shutting America’s door to refugees. This is, as they say in Yiddish, a shanda, or embarrassment.
It is appropriate at this time to adopt the words of the great Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel to the refugee situation and Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan: “If America is not for itself, who will be for America? But if America is only for itself, what is America? And if not now, when?”
An America which turns away refugees is not America. We forgot that during the Holocaust. Let’s never again forget who we are.